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By Adam Bisek

Anatomy

Glute anatomy

The Glutes are comprised of 3 muscles: maximus, medius, and minimus. Think of them almost as layered, with the gluteus maximus for all intents and purposes the larger top layer over the medius (while some of the medius can be seen superficially), and then the medius layered over the minimus. Because they differ quite a bit in origin and insertion points I will outline those below:

Gluteus Maximus: Originates at multiple areas: ilium, sacrum, coccyx, aponeurosis of the sacrospinalis, sacrotuberous ligament, and gluteal aponeurosis. Put simply it originates at the low back, posterior hip, and tailbone area. It then inserts at the upper fibers of the iliotibial tract on the side of your leg.

Gluteus Medius: Originates at the lateral surface of the ilium and gluteal aponeurosis. This is basically the posterior side of your pelvis. It then inserts to the lateral surface of the greater trochanter of the femur (upper leg).

Gluteus Minimus: Originates on the external surface of the ilium between the anterior and posterior gluteal lines. In other words on the outer surface of your pelvis spanning some distance across. The insertion is similar to the glute medius’ on the greater trochanter of the femur.

Biomechanics

The gluteus muscles perform a number of actions at the hip joint. Most notably the maximus extends the hip, as well as abducting and laterally (externally) rotating it. Essentially it brings your upper leg out and back.

The medius and minimus play a unique role. Their main role is hip abduction and stabilization in such tasks as when the opposite leg is raised off the ground. They both also span the distance of the ilium so they can perform both internal and external rotation of the hip/thigh. The medius can also assist in flexion and extension of the hip, bringing the thigh forward and back.

The Exercises

1) The Shortened Position: Barbell Hip Thrust

Working Sets: 4

Repetition Range: 6-8

Tempo: 2011

Rest: ~120-180 seconds

RIR: ~1-2

Using a bench height of roughly ~12-16 inches high place yourself such that you pivot at the lower portion of your shoulder blades. Place your feet roughly hip-to-shoulder width apart and at a distance in front of you such that at the top of the movement your shins are vertical (perpendicular to the ground). Position a barbell (or choice of weight/load) on your hips using cylindrical weight plates if possible. Depending on your strength and individual anthropometrics you may need risers on the sides or different size plates, but for most a typical “bumper” or 45lb weight plate dimension will place the bar at an appropriate height. “Bumper” plates range from 10 up to 45lbs so even for those not strong enough to hip thrust 135lbs (traditional Olympic barbell with 45lb plates added) an appropriate initial bar height is possible.

From the starting position drive your arms into the bench and hold on to the bar. Drive your heels into the ground and your hips upward to get full hip extension and a slight posterior pelvic tilt. Throughout the movement keep your ribcage down, chin tucked to your chest and eyes gazing forward, not up. Be cognizant not to let your knees cave in, a slight “knee out” emphasis is advised on the upward phase. Make sure to hold the top end contraction for a moment before descending back down to the starting position.

The hip thrust is a unique implementation for the Optimal Growth Strategy (OGS) as peak hip/glute torques are overcome in the shortest muscle position when muscles are typically at their weakest. However, because the hip thrust has such a great loading profile for the glutes and propensity, oddly enough, for larger loads to be used it’s implemented as a more “meat and potatoes” exercise in the OGS model.

2) The Lengthened Position: Barbell Romanian Deadlift (RDL)

Working Sets: 4

Repetition Range: 6-8

Tempo: 3010

Rest: ~120-180 seconds

RIR: ~1-2

Using a barbell or even dumbbells start with a roughly hip-width stance. Hold the barbell at roughly shoulder width or dumbbells hanging at an approximately similar distance. Brace your abdominal wall, and with a slight, fixed bend in your knees push your hips back to hinge at your hips. As you descend keep good shoulder posture and your head and neck in line with your spine. Only go as far down as you can keep a “flat back” and not allowing yourself to start hinging or bending at your lower back. It’s normal for your upper back to round over just a tad when using relatively heavy weights or as fatigue sets in, just don’t let this become excessive and maintain good upper back/shoulder posture as best you can.

When you reach the bottommost range of motion based on your mobility and strength drive your hips forward. You may feel a decent stretch in your hamstrings at the bottom of the movement or you may not, it all depends on your strength and mobility around your lumbopelvic-hip area. At the bottom, you’re also nearing the greatest amount of torque on your hips that your glutes will have to overcome. At this point, they are near their lengthened position. As you approach the top of the movement attempt to slightly posteriorly tilt your pelvis more so to keep from arching at your lower back than to load your glutes. At the top of the movement, minimal load is being taken on by your glutes and so the main concern is avoiding excess extension or arching of your lumbar spine as to why we would posteriorly tilt the pelvis a bit while emphasizing a braced abdominal wall.

 

3) The Mid-Range Position: Roman Chair Hip Extension

Working Sets: 3-4

Repetition Range: 10-12

Tempo: 2010

Rest: ~90-120 seconds

RIR: ~0-1

Using a 45-degree Roman Chair set the thigh pad height such that it is as high as it can be, up to where your pelvic bones protrude on each side (anterior superior iliac spine, ASIS), but also not so high that you cannot fully hinge at your hips. This will take some experimenting to find for you, much like the entire set-up and execution of the movement will. To target the glutes more so, externally rotate your feet a bit, this shortens the glute medius and has been shown to help with glute max involvement. Cross your hands in front of your or hold a weighted implement if needed to appropriately conduct the repetition scheme. What’s next is the toughest part for people to understand and implement. Flex over your entire spine and tuck your chin a bit towards your chest. To maximize glute max involvement and minimize the involvement of the muscles that govern lumbar/spinal extension we need to keep this posture throughout the movement and especially as we ascend towards the top end range of motion.

Starting with the aforementioned flexed spine position and slightly tucked chin descend as far as you can. You may feel your glutes and/or hamstrings stretch here. Some even feel their calves if they are particularly tight in that area. Once you reach the bottom of the movement drive your hips into the top of the thigh pad and squeeze your glutes as hard as you can to come to the top of the movement. Do not extend your back, doing so is not wrong but a different exercise and emphasis altogether. When your torso is roughly parallel with the ground your hips/glutes are overcoming the highest degree of torque and you’re roughly at the mid-range of glute muscle length.

*Bonus 

4) Gluteus Medius: Seated Abduction

Working Sets: 3

Repetition Range: 10-12

Tempo: 3010

Rest: ~90 seconds

RIR: ~0-1

Because the glute medius does add a good amount visually to overall glute size I would be remiss to not include it in the OGS strategy even though it doesn’t quite fit the mold.

There are plenty of movements to “isolate” abduction and subsequently the glute medius, but nothing quite does it like the overloading potential of the seated abduction machine. This one is pretty cut and dry. Keeping a good upper body posture and slightly braced abdominal wall drive your knees outward to the fullest range of motion you can achieve. When you become fatigued or are using too much weight you will tend to use a jerking motion and not be able to keep a still upper torso posture, arching your lower back as a compensatory mechanism. If this happens either become cognizant of it and brace your abdominal wall better, cease the set, or lower the weight. We want to keep the glutes doing all of the work. Having a little slower eccentric or lowering phase on this movement will help to lessen any cheating or momentum being used. As an aside, stay seated on the machine. Many try and get creative sitting backward or hovering over the seat. Remember, stability is needed to express strength, the less stable you, and your lumbopelvic-hip region, are the less load you will be able to move and the harder it will be to create a “mind-muscle” connection with your glutes on this movement.

Implementation

The glutes are a unique muscle in regards to fitting the OGS model being that they play a large role in many large, multi-joint lower body exercises. Often they work with the quads and/or glutes, and thus having an OG strategy that uses all isolation may not work as well in practice. If you’re one putting a high priority on glute growth in your program you very well could do the 4 exercises outline as above as a standalone day and have another day of the week dedicated to working your quads and hamstrings. However, what may be the most pragmatic and implementable approach is spreading the above 4 movements over a couple of dedicated leg days per week.

If we are making glute growth a priority but still spreading the above OG strategy over the week it's pretty simple. Using the old school Weider priority principle we would simply construct two unique lower days placing the Barbell Hip Thrust as your first and main strength movement of one day, and then the Romanian Deadlift as your second day’s first and main movement. The Roman Chair Hip Extension and Seated Abduction lend themselves to great third or fourth exercise options in a typical bodybuilding oriented lower body day.

Other great multi-joint strength movements that involve the glutes are any squat variations, split squat or lunge variations, and even leg press variations. What’s important to note here is that on these movements both the hip and the knee joints are involved to a great degree to create purposeful movement. Whenever we bias the hips moving more than the knees, as seen by bending over more at the hip/torso on squat or lunge type movements and using a higher foot on the platform placement with leg press movements, we bias using the glutes more than the quads. So, minimizing knee travel and movement and maximizing hip movement will cause you to use your glutes more so than your quads in larger, multi-joint lower body movements.

As always hitting multiple mechanisms of muscle growth is important for optimal growth over time. While the above outline OGS model does employ optimal muscle hypertrophy repetition ranges and tempos it is advisable to use this as a phase of training complimented by a following one of a bit higher repetition ranges (~15-20) tending to muscular endurance and metabolic stress or possibly one of lower repetitions (~3-5) to work more so on muscular strength. Variation over time is integral to long-term progress and tending to greater muscular strength at times, as well as muscular endurance at other times can benefit muscle growth over the long haul.

*Tempo is referred to in a 4-digit sequence whereby the first digit and thirst digits are the lowering/lengthening (eccentric) contraction and raising/shortening (concentric) contraction respectively. The second and fourth digits are the times between those two contractions/movements. For example, using the Hip Thrust tempo above (2011) you would lower the weight and lengthen your glutes for 2 seconds (2011), not pause (2011), extend your hips upward for 1 second (2011), and then hold that full hip extended, shortened contraction for 1 second (2011) before lowering the weight again.

**RIR stands for Repetitions in Reserve and is essentially the assumed amount of repetitions you have left before you technically fail on the exercise. Technical failure is denoted by the last repetition you can complete with technically sounds failure, this is not absolute failure, where simply completing the repetition with breaks in form and compensation most often occurring.

References

Logic, Physio. “Keep An Eye On Those Glutes!” Physio Logic NYC, 8 Jan. 2020, physiologicnyc.com/preventing-pain-glutes/.